HIST 7040 Issues and Interpretation in Public History

Kathryn Wilson

Monday 4:30-7:00 PM

Office Hours

Wednesdays 3-4:30 PM

Room 2107 25 Park Place




Public history, or historical work for and with the public outside an academic setting, is a distinctive interdisciplinary field that unites theory and practice, values both traditional and non-traditional evidence, pursues a variety of presentation formats, reframes historical questions and narratives, and engages the public in collaborative inquiry and representation. Inherently collaborative, public history draws on history, ethnography, design, archeology, education, public policy, and multimedia, and its practitioners include museum professionals, government and business historians, historical consultants, archivists and librarians, teachers, cultural resource managers, curators, film and media producers, policy advisors, oral historians, preservationists, and many others.

This course is intended as an introduction to key theoretical, methodological, and practical issues related to creating history by, for, and with a wider public, including questions of audience and authority in presenting history; the relationship between history and memory; the politics and ethics of public history; and the applications of history in diverse formats and media. This course is designed for, but not limited to, students who might consider work in the varied fields of public history.

Course Learning Objectives

Through this course students will:

  • Develop a working knowledge of various contexts and media for public history interpretation
  • Comprehend a variety of themes and issues as they manifest in public history practice, such as memory and commemoration, heritage vs. history, cultural representation, civic engagement, and shared authority
  • Learn how to identify and measure the meaning and impact of public history activities
  • Become aware of strategies for engaging diverse stakeholders in public history planning and programming

Course materials

The following books can be purchased:

Lisa Brochu, Interpretive Planning: The 5M Model for Successful Planning Projects . Second edition (InterPress, 2014).

 Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Belknap/HarvardUniversity Press, 2005)

Annie E. Coombes, History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa (Duke University Press, 2003).

Hurley, Andrew. Beyond Preservation: Using Public History to Revitalize Inner Cities. (Temple University Press, 2010).

Scott Magelssen, ed. Enacting History (University of Alabama Press, 2011).

Cathy Stanton, The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006).

 Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Second edition. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015).

Other materials will be available on iCollege or through electronic reserves (ERes).

Course Requirements

  1. In -class participation: Active participation in class is expected including: completing discussion assignments, sharing information and news on public history activities, contributing to peer project development, critical discussion of readings, and regular attendance. 
  1. Blogging participation:Students are expected to post weekly on the course blog and comment on each other’s posts.
  1. Short writing assignments:

Site Analysis: Visit a public history venue and write a review of the experience.

Website analysis: Choose one of history sites on the web and analyze the overall structure of the site and approach to the content, use and formats of digital media, navigation, quality of historical information and authentication

  1. Final group project: Interpretive Plan for the Commemorative Air Force Museum, Dixie Wing, Peachtree City, GAThe class will create an interpretive plan for the Commemorative Air Force Museum in Peachtree City. The CAF Dixie Wing is a regional branch of the CAF, which was founded to “acquire, restore and preserve in flying condition a complete collection of combat aircraft which were flown by all military services of the United States, and selected aircraft of other nations, for the education and enjoyment of present and future generations of Americans.” The Dixie Wing was created in 1987 and houses a collection of vintage WWII aircraft and associated artifacts. A “flying museum,” the all-volunteer organization preserves and flies this aircraft and hosts events during the year for the public. The Museum is looking to professionalize and develop an onsite exhibition and educational programs.  Learn more about the CAF Dixie Wing at  Your assignment will be to work with the museum to identify key themes and suggest strategies for interpreting these themes in exhibits and programs.


Letter grades will be calculated in this course according to the following weights:

Participation (includes class discussion, attendance, and blogging) – 30%

Site analysis –15%

Website analysis – 15%

Final project–40%

Attendance in class is required and will count as part of your grade. Please let me know in advance if you need to miss class; you will be responsible for making up any work missed due to absence. Missing more than three classes without an excuse will result in a lowered grade. In dire circumstances paper extensions can be considered; be prepared to document your emergency.

In the event that you wish to dispute your grade, please submit the request and rationale for the change in writing to me within one week of receipt. 

Other Policies 

Academic Honesty: Plagiarism will be dealt with in accordance with University Policy on Academic Honesty (Section 409). You can review this policy at: Plagiarized work will receive an automatic F with no credit and will be reported to the Dean’s Office, at minimum.

Withdrawals: Be advised that the last day to withdraw from a course with the possibility of receiving a

‘W’ is _____. If a student withdraws by this date but is failing the course, he/she will receive a ‘WF.’ All students who withdraw after this date will receive a ‘WF.’

Evaluations: Your constructive assessment of this course plays an indispensable role in shaping education at Georgia State University. Upon completing the course, please take the time to fill out the online course evaluation. I appreciate your feedback.

Disability Services: Students who wish to request accommodation for a disability may do so by registering with the Office of Disability Services. Students may only be accommodated upon issuance by the Office of Disability Services of a signed Accommodation Plan and are responsible for providing a copy of that plan to instructors of all classes in which an accommodation is sought. Please inform me if you have a documented disability that needs to be accommodated.

Schedule of Topics and Readings*

*The course syllabus provides a general plan for the course; I reserve the right to make changes as necessary.

 8/22/16                Introduction to the course- What is public history?

 Sign up for WordPressH-PublicMHP listserv

Check out History@Work Blog, the National Council on Public History blog

8/29/16                Shared authority: History in/for/with the public

Roy Rosenzweig and David Thelen, “Introduction” and “The Presence of the Past,” in The Presence of the Past: Popular Uses of History in American Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998), 1-36. (iCollege)

David Glassberg, “A Sense of History” in Sense of History: The Place of the Past in American Life (University of Massachusetts Press, 2001), 3-22.(iCollege)

Gardner, James B. “Contested Terrain: History, Museums, and the Public.” The Public Historian 26, no. 4 (2004): 11-21.(iCollege)

Jürgen Habermas, “The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article,” New German Critique No. 3 (Autumn 1974), pp. 49-55(iCollege)

Frisch, Michael. A Shared Authority: Essays on the Craft and Meaning of Oral and Public History (State University of New York Press, 1990), xv-xxiii.(iCollege)

 9/5/16                  No class Labor Day

9/12/16                Stakeholders and strategies: Interpretive planning and pitfalls

Gary Nash, “For Whom Will the Liberty Bell Toll? From Controversy to Cooperation,” in Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory, ed. James Oliver Horton and Lois E. Horton (The New Press, 2006), 75-101. (iCollege)

Kohn, Richard. “History and the Culture Wars: The Case of the Smithsonian Institution’s Enola Gay Exhibit.” Journal of American History 82:3 (December 1995): 1036-1063.(iCollege)

Katherine T. Corbett and Howard S. Dick Miller, “A Shared Inquiry Into Shared Inquiry,” The Public Historian 28.1 (Winter, 2006) 15-28.(iCollege)

Excerpt from Marcella Wells, Barbara Butler, Judith Koke, Interpretive Planning for Museums: Integrating Visitor Perspectives in Decision Making (Left Coast Press, 2015) (handout)

“Planning for Interpretation and Visitor Experience” (iCollege)

Brochu, Lisa. Interpretive Planning: The 5M Model for Successful Planning Projects (InterPress, 2003), 1-40; 51-106.

Select interpretive plans (iCollege)

9/17/16               Class visit to CAF, Peachtree City

9/19/16               Display and storytelling: Exhibitions and museums

Tony Bennett, “The Exhibitionary Complex” new formations 4 (Spring I988): 73-102.(iCollege)

Margaret Lindauer, “The Critical Museum Visitor,” in Janet Marstine, ed., New Museum Theory and Practice: An Introduction (Malden, MA, 2006) 203-225.(iCollege)

Tammy S. Gordon, “Heritage, Commerce, and Museal Display: Toward a New Typology of Historical Exhibition in the United States,” The Public Historian 30.3 (August, 2008) 27-50.(iCollege)

Barbara Kirschenblatt-Gimblett, “Destination Museum” in Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (University of California Press, 1998), 131-176.(iCollege)

9/23/16           Site Analysis assignment due via email 

9/26/16               Memory, heritage, and power: History and public memory

Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Second edition. (Boston: Beacon Press, 2015).


10/3/16                Memory, heritage, and power: The American South

Fitzhugh Brundage, The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory (Belknap/Harvard University Press, 2005)

10/10/16              Should history live? Living history and reenactment

Scott Magelssen, ed. Enacting History (University of Alabama Press, 2011).

10/17/16             Dialogue, interaction, engagement: Programming and education

Freeman Tilden, “Principles of Interpretation,” in Interpreting our Heritage (University of North Carolina Press, 2007): 25-35. (iCollege)

Ruth Abram, “Kitchen Conversations: Democracy in Action at the Lower East Side Tenement Museum,” The Public Historian 29:1 (February 2007): 59-76. (iCollege)

John Kuo Wei Tchen, “Creating a Dialogic Museum: The Chinatown History Museum Experiment,” in Museums and Communities: The Politics of Public Culture (Smithsonian Institution, 1992): 285-326. (iCollege)

Patrick Grossi, “’Plan or be planned for’: Temple Contemporary’s Funeral for a Home and the Politics of Engagement,” The Public Historian 37:2 (May 2015): 14-26. (iCollege)

10/24/16             History 2.0: Digital history and public history 

Lauren Jae Gutterman, “ An Experiment in LGBTQ Community History-Making,” The Public Historian 32: 4 (Fall 2010), 96-109.(iCollege)

Stephanie Ho, “Blogging as Popular History Making, Blogs as Public History:  A Singapore Case Study,” Public History Review 14 (2007): 64-79. (iCollege)

Sheila A. Brennan and T. Mills Kelly, “Why Collecting History Online is Web 1.5,” Center for History and New Media, Case Study, at (iCollege)

Matthew MacArthur, “Can Museums Ever Allow Online Users to Become Participants,” in Din and Hecht, eds, The Digital Museum: A Think Guide (Washington, 2007) 57-65.(iCollege)

Jack Dougherty and Kristen Nawrotzki, eds. Writing History in the Digital Age. University of Michigan Press Trinity College (CT) web-book edition, 2012. (iCollege)

Website and blog sampler

10/31/16           no class

Website analysis assignment due

11/7/16                History and heritage in tourism and public interpretation

Cathy Stanton, The Lowell Experiment: Public History in a Postindustrial City (University of Massachusetts Press, 2006).

11/14/16             Memory, heritage, and power: Examples from South Africa

Annie E. Coombes, History After Apartheid: Visual Culture and Public Memory in a Democratic South Africa (Duke University Press, 2003).

11/21/16             No class Thanksgiving Break

11/28/16             Work in progress

12/5/16                Group Project presentation

Final Project due 12/12/16

One Response to Syllabus

  1. Pingback: Welcome to HIST 7040! | Issues and Interpretations in Public History

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